Role: Flight Test Engineer
Company: 3D Robotics
Education: Princeton University, Mechanical Engineering
Specialties: R&D aircraft stress testing
Welcome back to So You Want To Work With Drones, where we interview members of the rapidly-evolving drone industry and ask them what it’s like to work with drones and how others can follow in their footsteps.
This week we sit down with Daniel Santillan, a Flight Test Engineer at 3D Robotics and one of the lead flight test engineers behind 3DR’s newest consumer drone, the Solo.
What does a Flight Test Engineer do?
The designers have sketched out what the drone should should look like, the hardware engineers have built it to the best of their abilities, and the software engineers have implemented the code the drone needs to fly, so now what?
Enter: the Flight Test Engineer. These are the people responsible for making sure the drone does all the things a user will expect it to do. This involves countless hours of flight testing and taking detailed measurements of the aircraft’s performance. This data and feedback is critical to all parts of the production process and verifies quality assurance for a positive user experience.
Flight Test Engineer on the Job: Daniel Santillan
Daniel has been interested in the laws of physics and working with aircraft for a good majority of his life. After receiving a degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton, Daniel went on to work at Northrop Grumman and United Technology Aerospace Systems before landing at 3D Robotics as a Flight Test Engineer.
Q: So Dan, how did you end up becoming a Flight Test Engineer?
I started off working with UTC Aerospace Systems in San Diego as part of their Rotational Engineering program. While very rewarding, I wanted to keep working in the UAS field which had been such a large part of my senior thesis at Princeton. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to work for 3D Robotics in Berkeley as a Flight Test Engineer and haven’t regretted that decision since (with the except of those times when I’m craving So-Cal Mexican food).
Q: Can you tell us what the day in the life of a Flight Test Engineer looks like?
I’m usually out in the field testing, at my desk desk analyzing and summarizing flights, troubleshooting problems and tracking down answers from the people that caused the problem/can fix it, demoing vehicles, flying aircraft that have no business being in the air and certainly won’t be for long, helping to develop something new, and staying current with what else is out on the market. It can vary from day to day.
Q: What skills are needed as a Flight Test Engineer? What tools do you use?
Excellent communication and an attention to detail. You work with a lot of different groups and failing to get the correct information or forgetting something means wasted time and effort.
Q: What is your favorite part about being a Flight Test Engineer for drones?
Ripping around the air with the latest and greatest flight products and getting to honestly say that you’re doing your job. Also, being outside so much is amazing.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring Flight Test Engineer for drones?
If this is the industry that interests you, try and get involved however you can. As a member of the community, it’s far easier to find the perfect position.
Q: What are some books or resources you would recommend?
Everyday I’m reminded of how little I actually know about this industry and how much I still have to learn. This isn’t news, but the internet provides! Just keep on trucking along with Wikipedia, forums and the kid next to you who thinks you ask too many questions.
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Stay tuned for more interviews!
Drones are complex machines. They require a ton of smart people from many different backgrounds in order to produce a polished and dependable product. From software engineers to hardware engineers, and product designers to industrial designers, drones are built through a highly coordinated team effort.
Stay tuned for more interviews with others from around the drone community.
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